Why Do We Give Thanks?

I feel a strange pressure to write a post about how I’m thankful for stuff today. I do feel immense gratitude for a great many people, places, and things, but the conflict comes from my perceived expectation that I should share my thanks simply because it’s a holiday in the United States. However, I’m not in the United States.

Most people here in Thailand aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary today. People aren’t traveling to grandma’s house en masse, and grocery stores aren’t stocked up on inordinate amounts of cranberry sauce and turkey. But even still, I gathered for dinner with a group of friends to celebrate a holiday that isn’t even happening in the country in which I reside. Among the group were mostly people raised in the US, but also a handful of others from different countries. When asked about the meaning of Thanksgiving, I realized I have more questions about it than I have answers.

American Thanksgiving dinner at Cat House Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

American Thanksgiving dinner at Cat House Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Throughout the discussion, I found myself needing to explain the fairy tale version of Thanksgiving we’re taught in government schools, the more historically accurate version amalgamated from various texts by radical historians, and the more modern meaning that seems to broadly involve seeing people you like, eating tons of food, and posting about everything you’re thankful for on social media sites. And while our discussion was full of great cross-cultural insights, this last point is what has left me most puzzled.

Most of my Facebook friends are from the US, so most of my Facebook feed has been people sharing their thanks in their statuses. I almost posted a similar status myself about a recent trip to Pai, and moving into a new apartment today. But before I clicked the post button, I felt an internal nagging to question my own motives and intentions. When I stopped to listen to this nagging, I was greeted with a number of questions.

Do we share our thanks for the benefit of ourselves, for others, for both?

When we post our thanks each day in November or on Thanksgiving, are we actually more thankful during that time, or is it just that we’re making it a point to share the thanks we experience every other day of the year? And if that’s the case, why don’t we post our thanks every other day of the year?

Does sharing our thanks help us develop a habit of seeking out those things in our lives for which we have much gratitude? Or do we get a boost for a month or two that then fades when the US holiday season comes to a close?

Were all of us this thankful before social media allowed us to share our thanks with hundreds of family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers with such ease?

Do we realize how much of a miracle it is that we have a way to share our thanks across the world with such little time, energy, and money?

These are a few of the questions that came to mind. I don’t have answers for any of them, and I’m sure the answers differ for each individual, but I’m thankful for the chance to ponder. Maybe you are, too.

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Create Every Day Wrap-Up

Every day for seven months – 212 consecutive days – I created something and posted the creation to this site. It was a fantastic experience that helped me learn more about my creative process and the personal goals I have for my creativity.

I’m very happy to have chosen this project for myself, and I’m very pleased with most of the ideas I came up with during that time. I am glad, however, to have decided to finish the project. Editing, uploading, and posting my creations (the most difficult part of the project, by far) began to distract from the creative process, and it eventually began to feel like a chore. Finally, I came to the point where I found myself saying, “crap, I still have to post tonight…” and I knew the project was no longer benefiting me. I decided to stop posting creations at that point to see how that would affect my desire to be creative, and I found myself longing to play the guitar, and I wanted to photograph everything I saw. With the strong expectation I had built up for myself to post something each day, I had lost some of what makes creating fun for me – spontaneity, emotional honesty, and a heartfelt desire to experience beauty that had previously never existed.

As an artist who seldom finishes anything, this project helped me to accept things I was producing that weren’t “perfect.” Limiting my time and keeping my perfectionism in check gave me a drive to do as much with as little as possible. With these guidelines helping me understand and work around some of my greatest barriers, my photography skills improved (quite dramatically, I’d say), as did my ability to quickly record musical ideas as they skipped through my mind, and my fear of kitchens faded dramatically. The progress I made during this project was something I couldn’t have predicted. And if there’s one major takeaway, it’s that I will forever be on the pathway of growing my skills and exploring my personal philosophy on creating.

 

As the sun sets on my Create Every Day project, a beautiful Halloween moon rises full of creative potential.

As the sun sets on my Create Every Day project, a beautiful Halloween moon rises full of creative potential.

 

Thank you all for the support you’ve given me throughout this project. I hope it was enjoyable watching it all unfold! All of my creations will still be up on this site under the Create Every Day tab, so feel free to peruse through them at your leisure. And keep your eyes and ears peeled – there’s plenty more to come… such as this piece on which I’ve been collaborating with my friend and fellow musician, The Panpsychist!

 

 

Please help me purchase more space for my SoundCloud account so I can continue to share my music!

If you’re so giving as to gift me a Pro account, I’ll be eternally grateful and I’ll give you special thanks in the liner notes of all the albums I produce forever! (https://soundcloud.com/pro/gifts)

If you’ve got a buck or two you can donate and you have a PayPal account, my PayPal account email address is: JoshuaDuChene@gmail.com

I also accept bitcoin donations below.

Thanks for all your support!

Lastly, Happy Halloween!!!

 

 

Bam! Kickin’ Your Writing Process Up A Notch With “Writing For The Web”

My good friend, Will Moyer, recently wrote an eBook called Writing For The Web. I like supporting my friends and the projects they undertake, but I seldom go out of my way to write rave reviews of their work or share their blog posts or music unless I find their work especially valuable, or I at least think people in my circles would. This book happens to be one of those few things that fits into both those categories.

Imagine that for your entire life you’ve been cooking your stir-fry by holding a match under a coffee cup. This book is a fully stocked commercial kitchen with Emeril Lagasse as your guide. “Bam! You just kicked your writing process up a notch!” Seriously, I think of this book as one big, easy-to-follow pro-tip on how to create an efficient and personalized writing flow with a bunch of tools that you can download for free!

I’ve never liked writing – notice the massive amount of time between blog posts on this site? However, what I didn’t realize is that a big part of my displeasure with writing was caused by the terrible tools I was using. My grad thesis just about killed me, mostly because I was using Microsoft Word. (Spoiler: Word sucks if you are attempting to use it to write anything, ever.) Will’s book provides a vast range of recommendations for programs to help writers more efficiently accomplish different tasks in their personal workflows, such as text editors for hassle-free content creation, tools for seamless group collaboration, programs for easily getting content web-ready, and plenty more.

I knew that Word sucked, that it always screwed up all my formatting, and that files I wrote in one version of Word probably wouldn’t be fully compatible with last year’s version (does that even make any sense?), but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know what else to use. Writing For The Web changed all of that for me. Will outlines different parts of the writing process and shares what types of programs and tools are most useful for those different tasks. And far from taking a one-size-fits-all approach, he encourages writers to try out different tools and see which ones work best for their personal writing flow.

What I found even more impactful than Will’s thorough explanation of all the free programs and tools available, however, is that he urges writers to think more deeply about their personal writing processes, and he explains quite convincingly how taking a little time to construct a personal writing process with intention saves major time and energy in the long haul. For being such a clean, technical looking book, it really delves into the philosophy behind writing, and it’s really easy to follow, even if you consider yourself tech-illiterate. I’m not kidding when I say that this is the kind of book that your grandmother could get a lot of value out of (not to assume your grandmother isn’t tech savvy – she might be a programming wizard for all I know).

If you ever write anything using a computer (college students, bloggers, journalists, soccer moms, etc.), this book will help you personalize and streamline your writing process in ways you didn’t know were possible. And if you’re someone who dislikes writing, you may even start to enjoy writing after reading it (kind of like I have). Pick up this book and start investing in your personal writing process – your brain will thank you for it.

To get your copy of Will’s eBook, Writing For The Web, click on this Amazon.com link.

Check out a free sample chapter here.

 

Writing For The Web, by Will Moyer

Writing For The Web, by Will Moyer

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide – Getting Around Within Cities Part II

In continuing with my theme of transportation within cities, for today’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide post I’ve decided to type a bit about renting motorbikes/motor-scooters!

I love renting motor-scooters – they’re pretty cheap (you can easily find a basic 125cc scooter for less than USD $10 per day), they’re super fun, they’re zippy, and they’re great for taking day trips out to waterfalls, temples, and mountains outside the cities. You don’t have to have a Thai or International Driver’s License to rent and use one, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of riding them for most people.

If you decide to rent a motorbike or motor-scooter, do an online search for motorbike rental shops in your city to get an idea of what’s available, what kind of prices to expect, and which shops are reputable and which should be avoided (I had a particularly unpleasant experience with Mr. Mechanic in Chiang Mai). Also, ask your guesthouse staff for recommendations as they sometimes offer discounted rates through particular rental shops – some will even bring the motorbikes to your hostel for you, allowing you to check-out and return the motorbike right there where you’re staying.

There are several different types of motorbikes available at a range of different prices. I typically go with the 125cc scooters because I’m a jobless vagabond, and those are the cheapest to rent. However, you can rent anything from your basic in-town scooter to things that look like they came out of Tron – expect to pay significantly more for those, though, sometimes up to USD $40 per day or more. If a rental shop has a website, they often display a list of the types of motorbikes they have available as well as prices, so you should be able to get an idea of what you want before you even venture into a shop.

The Little Green motorbike I rode around Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

The little teal motorbike I rode around on in Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

When you go to rent your motor-scooter, bring a camera with you and a good set of eyes, as well as a copy of your passport. The companies will want to hold your passport there in case you either wreck the bike or run off with it/have it stolen. NEVER LEAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH ANYBODY! This is why you bring a photo-copy of the main page of your passport – most companies will allow you to leave this with a deposit of 3000 baht (about USD $100). If the company insists on keeping your passport, walk thirty feet down the sidewalk to another rental company. As for the camera and good set of eyes, do a thorough check of all parts of the bike before signing anything, including the mirrors, handlebar end-caps, rims, tires, shocks, seat, plastic paneling, everything! And take photos of each part of the bike. This is for your protection so the company doesn’t try to charge you extraordinary fees for cosmetic repairs upon returning it. While not common, some companies will pull this on you and charge you the full repair amount for something as little as a scratch… which leads me to an important point about operating the motorbikes.

Be extremely cautious when riding on any sand, gravel, or on roadways that aren’t clean pavement, and only use your back brake when driving on these kinds of surfaces. The tires are often pretty slick and can easily slip out from under you if you’re not cautious on corners or if you’re relying too heavily on your front brake. I witnessed a minor accident when a person in front of me hit a small gravel patch while they were going fairly slowly around a corner. It was enough to cause the bike to skid out, resulting in quite a few scrapes and bruises for the driver and a few scratches on the plastic paneling of the scooter. That brings me to my next point – always purchase the additional insurance from the rental company for the scooter. In this case, the driver purchased extra insurance, which brought the “damage” charges down to a more manageable level (like USD $100, rather than the cost of an entire new bike). Still extraordinary for a few cosmetic scratches that were barely noticeable, but better than having to pay USD $1200, or whatever they felt like charging that day.

Another tip is to always lock the back wheel of the bike with the provided lock. While this won’t guarantee that your bike won’t be stolen, it will at least decrease the chance that a thief will pick your bike out of a line where others aren’t locked. Also, wear your helmet. While the law is rather lax around this point, if a police officer decides to stop you without your helmet, it’s an automatic fine. Also, it’s just far safer – the accident I saw may have been a bit worse if the rider hadn’t had their helmet on.

Regarding gasoline, the bikes will have none in them when you rent them, but filling up is cheap and the gas mileage is amazing. The stations have attendants that will help you fill up, and it shouldn’t cost more than a few US dollars to completely fill the tank on a small scooter. I filled up the tiny tank for about $4, which was more than enough to get me from Chiang Mai to Pai (about 85 miles). Also, driving is in the left lane in Thailand, but I think it’s easier to adjust to than one would expect. And lastly, road rules are more suggestions than anything, so stay aware of what’s going on around you and try not to let yourself become overwhelmed by the craziness that is Thai traffic.

Well, there’s a little info on renting motorbikes in Thailand. I hope it helps! Feel free to message me if you have questions I didn’t address, or if you have your own stories, advice, warnings, or amazing experiences. Also, keep checking back as I’ll be posting a part three soon with info on taxis, tuk-tuks, and songthaews!

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide – Getting Around Within Cities Part I

Today, I decided to take a break from the newest song I’ve been writing so that I can post my first mini-article for my Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide series. I started brainstorming some ideas, and the first thing that came to mind was about getting around within cities, so I’m going to cover a couple methods of inner-city travel in today’s article. Today, I’m going to focus specifically on walking, renting bicycles, and taking mini-vans. I’ll soon write a few follow-ups that include taxis, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and songthaews!

Walking:
Oh, walking – the oldest form of transportation known to humankind. I love walking through Thai cities because it’s cheap, healthful, and lets you catch every detail around you. There are many cities, or parts of cities, where walking is a great option. For example, if you visit Bangkok and stay near Khao San Road (a very popular tourist destination with a plethora of hostels, restaurants, shops, and street markets), it’s easy to spend an entire day walking around the area seeing the sights, temples, markets, and such. Also, in smaller towns like Pai, or on small islands like Koh Samet, walking is an optimal option.

Keep in mind, however, that the streets and sidewalks are likely going to be far dirtier than a common urban walkway in your quaint hometown neighborhood. So don’t wear your fanciest shoes (don’t bring your fanciest clothes, in general), and if you’re concerned about getting something gross on your feet, bring a pair of comfortable close-toed shoes as well as your sandals. While walking along the moat in Chiang Mai, there have been numerous times where rats or giant cockroaches have buzzed past my feet, resulting in quite a start because of my propensity toward wearing sandals. I’ve also slipped into slimy puddles and gunky goop wearing sandals, which is quite a disgusting feeling, so be cautious where you step.

Beautiful ruins in Ayutthaya - these and many other great sights can be seen within a day by bike.

Beautiful ruins in Ayutthaya – these and many other great sights can be seen within a day by bicycle in Ayutthaya.

Bicycle:
While not available for rent in all cities, bicycles are an incredibly cheap way to get around far more quickly than walking and without the hassle of haggling with a tuk-tuk or songthaew driver. While I was in Ayutthaya (a city near Bangkok known for its many ruins), I rented a bicycle for the day for the equivalent of about USD $5. Within about five or six hours, I was able to see nearly all the ruins in the entire city (and there are a lot!), thanks to a map that was given to me by the bike rental shop.

Make sure you always lock the bike up, or at least lock the back tire to the frame with the provided lock to deter theft. While not necessarily common in Thailand, there are people everywhere in the world who are willing to steal things, so make yourself a less appealing target whenever possible. To rent a bicycle, I always find it easiest to ask the employees at your hostel if they know of any nearby bicycle rental companies – they’ll often know of reputable businesses, and sometimes you can get a small discount by renting through your hostel if they offer bicycles there.

Mini-van:
The mini-vans I’ve ridden in have all been fairly modern, eight- to twelve-passenger vans that are fairly clean and air-conditioned. When traveling to specific, key destinations, such as an airport, mini-vans are often the cheapest way to get there. In Bangkok, I took a mini-van from Khao San Road to the Suvarnabhumi airport for about a third of the price of a taxi. However, part of the reason they’re so cheap is because they cram as many people as possible into the van before departing, so don’t plan on having much leg room. They also only go between very specific, set destinations in highly touristy areas, unlike a taxi where you can go to and from anywhere.

Okay! There’s a bit of information about a few forms of inner-city transportation. I’ll soon write another mini-article where I’ll talk about additional forms of inner-city transportation. Thanks for reading!

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide!

After spending the majority of 2012 living in and traveling around a few different parts of Asia (China, Thailand, and Japan), I moved to Seattle in the late fall. It’s been a lot of fun living here, but I’ve been feeling the desire to be back in Asia growing rapidly. So a dear friend of mine and I just purchased one-way tickets to Thailand for early April, just in time for Songkran (a colossal, country-wide, three-day water-fight/festival)!

While visiting a travel forum about Thailand, I began writing a response to a question about finding cheap flights to Thailand and general pointers for a first-time visitor. My response began to fill the little response box, so I opened a text editor and began to expound upon the tips and pointers I was typing up. I then thought about how I’d love to share some more of my Thailand travel stories with my travel partner for this upcoming trip (this will be her first time visiting Thailand). And I suddenly felt inspired to write a sort of Thailand travel tips article and use it as a medium for telling some of my personal stories.

As I began writing, I found myself wanting to elaborate more on each topic and story, so I thought it would be fun to spread the article out and write a short series of mini-articles rather than one longer, more general article. So that’s what I’m going to do! I’ll cover a particular practical topic in each article, such as haggling with merchants, the dark art of flight searching, or getting around within cities. It should be noted, however, that these are all my personal stories, observations, and experiences. Additionally, my time in Thailand was largely spent in Pai, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Koh Samet, so that’s where most of my stories and experiences will be coming from. Regardless, this should be a fun process for me, and I’ll hopefully come up with something that people will want to read!

Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming first mini-article in Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide!

Looking toward the mainland from the dock on Koh Chang island.

Looking toward the mainland from the dock on Koh Chang island.

Create Every Day 2013!

It’s January 1st, 2013, and the culturally expected thing to do is to make some sort of resolution for the new year. I’m not one for drastic diet alterations or promises of major personality changes (I believe behavioral changes are difficult to sustain if they’re not easily measurable and tangible). However, I have decided to use the new year as a concrete starting point to try something that will help me grow creatively and overcome the fears that prevent me from progressing as far as I know I’m capable of.

I love to create and I consider myself a creative person, but I’ve come to the realization that I’m afraid of sharing my thoughts or ideas until they’re in some final, polished form. Since I generally feel inspired to start new ideas and projects before completing previous ones, I never end up sharing anything. Hence the reason I’ve been a “musician” for over a decade, but have only a handful of songs posted anywhere – most of them consisting of work I did with mötæ and Summerstone (where others relied on me to actually finish things).

I want others to hear my ideas, and I want to continue improving as an artist, so I’ve come up with an idea to help me achieve these goals: Each day for the entire year of 2013, I’ll be posting one new creative idea, and I’m fittingly calling this personal project Create Every Day (CED). My aim is for most of these posts to be musical ideas since that’s the creative area in which I want to improve the most. I’ve already accepted that many posts will be extremely raw – some may be nothing more than me singing a melody into a voice recording app on my phone and posting it, or a few lines of lyrics that I felt inspired to write. And that’s exactly what I want – raw ideas posted just as they are.

I also want this project to grow organically, so I’m not going to put any restrictions or limitations on it. By the end of the year it may have morphed into something entirely different, but as long as I’m posting personal creations each day, I will have achieved my goal. Keep your eyes and ears open, and please check back here every once in a while under the Create Every Day link to see what audio experiments I’ve been up to. Also, feel free to comment, criticize, or give kudos for anything I post. I know not all my ideas are going to be awesome, and that’s part of the process of growing.

Here’s to a creative 2013!!!

Create-Every-Day-Logo

 

Here’s the most recent complete song I’ve written through my Create Every Day project. I began this song as just a single guitar riff for one of my Create Every day posts, and after some experimentation I decided to create a full song form it in a style that reminds me of music from my favorite types of modern video games. I was particularly inspired by the Bastion soundtrack (composed by Darren Korb), and I’m really happy with the way it sounds. I decided to name it “The Adventure Begins!” as I think of it as a song that would be played as the overworld theme when your character begins their journey into the heart of the gameplay.

 

To see my most recent posts, check out my Create Every Day page.

 

Create Every Day 2013! Jan01

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Outside the Castle Walls

The lute player played late into the night, and the peasants danced and drank until they were filled with merriment. They knew their master would follow through this time and that everything would be better now. They had hope, and this hope filled their hearts with joy.

As the sun arose the next morning, I peered into the castle from afar. But to the surprise of the people within the walls, nothing had changed. Everything was just as it always had been. An eerie familiarity crept over the people as their elation slowly faded into the morning mist and memories of promises broken.

Even the minority who had wished for a new master were shocked, for they had drifted off to an anxious sleep expecting chaos and death to take them in the night. Yet they, too, awoke to find that the stone walls were still standing, just as they had stood throughout the reign of countless masters prior. The only considerable damage that had occurred was in the spirits and relationships of their fellow peasants.

Good intentions, swept up in masterful theatrics, had been transformed into vicious support for one of two nearly identical brands of continued servanthood. Passion and fervor blinded rationality and threatened friendships with the flick of a strawman or a tu quoquo. And now that the selecting was over, the peasants fell quickly back into the routine of their busy lives, never to think of the atrocities that had been, and would continue to be committed in the name of a lesser evil.

Gazing in, I felt saddened. I wanted others to see the beauty of the world outside the castle walls.
A world where all interactions and exchanges are made peacefully and voluntarily.
A world where good ideas don’t have to be enforced with the edge of a sword.
A world where violence and murder are never justified as a method of achieving peace.
A world where people don’t choose between a greater evil and a lesser evil, but between love, peace, freedom, and evil.

As the days pass and reality once again sets in for these hard-working, good-willed people, I hope those who become disheartened begin to peer outside the castle walls. For once they do, I believe they will see that their economic problems, the continual wars with neighboring kingdoms, and the immoral laws they are forced to obey cannot be fixed by placing a new master on the same throne, but that the system of masters, majorities, and rule by swords itself is what is flawed.

I understand that gazing beyond the walls is frightening. And I know that curiosity about what lies beyond is discouraged, even condemned by the master, his council, the lecturers, the enforcers, and even your family and friends. But I hope that you will look outside and find this other world as I did. I hope that you will join me, for there is a peace, a freedom, and a beauty here that exists only outside the castle walls.